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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Cosmonauts Pass On Repair Lessons to Relief Crew

Newly arrived Russian cosmonauts aboard the damaged Mir space station were busy Monday absorbing valuable maintenance and repair lessons learned the hard way by the current crew during six exhausting, trouble-plagued months in orbit.

Cosmonauts Anatoly Solovyov and Pavel Vinogradov, who reached Mir on Thursday, are gearing up for repair work on Mir's solar power system and hull, damaged during a collision with a cargo ship June 25.

They must also be prepared for further problems with the aging station's oxygen-generating and temperature control systems, which have broken down several times this year.

Commander Vasily Tsibliyev and flight engineer Alexander Lazutkin are briefing the newcomers on their struggle with the climate control system, which in April leaked toxic fluid and allowed the temperature to soar to an uncomfortable 30 degrees Celsius.

"Tsibliyev and Lazutkin have worked with this system like no other crew before, studied all of its peculiarities and delved into every last piece of it," said Valery Lyndin, spokesman at the mission control center at Korolyov outside Moscow.

"Today, they passed on this experience to the new crew so that this knowledge doesn't get lost," he said.

The cosmonauts will also have to repair one of the two Elektron oxygen-generating systems on board. When power levels on the station dropped to 60 percent after the accident, the generators were periodically switched on to conserve power.

Last week, the crew was unable to restart either unit. If the system cannot be fixed, new parts will be sent up to Mir in September when the space shuttle Atlantis brings up a replacement for NASA astronaut Michael Foale. Foale has been on Mir since May.

The five men are now producing oxygen by burning solid fuel canisters, the same system that malfunctioned in February, causing a fire and filling the station with thick smoke. Russian space officials say this is a reliable method, usually employed as an additional source of oxygen during crew changeovers. Over 2,500 such canisters have been safely burned on the station in the past. As well as tanks of extra oxygen, Mir carries large supplies of the canisters.

"They burn one canister per person every 24 hours," said Lyndin. "They are keeping a close eye on the atmosphere on the station. Too much oxygen is not good either."

Tsibliyev and Lazutkin are to return to Earth on Aug. 14. After that, they will submit reports on their flight, one of the most eventful in Russian space history. Tsibliyev in particular will be expected to face questions about why the Progress supply ship he was controlling from the station slammed into Mir at five times the normal speed.

Other problems included a loss of power when a crew member accidentally unplugged a vital computer.

The Russian daily newspaper Segodnya reported Monday that during a visit to the Khrunichev space research center on Friday, President Boris Yeltsin commented to the effect that people, not technology, were to blame for everything, and that when the cosmonauts return space officials would sort things out.

Before blasting off from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan last Tuesday, flight engineer Vinogradov said he and Solovyov were not going to Mir as repairmen, but to fulfill scheduled scientific experiments.

Nevertheless, the new crew faces a busy repair program. On Aug. 20, they are due to make the first of six space walks planned for their 6 1/2 month flight. Entering the dark, airless Spektr scientific module, one of the cosmonauts will try to reconnect power cables unhooked after the accident. Later, they will try patch the hole the Progress ship made in the hull.